The following article about Paul McKenna's "I Can Make You Thin" event is reproduced from the Observer newspaper website and is reproduced here for the benefit of my readers rather me just putting a link to the article.
Look into his eyes !!
He's the former stage
hypnotist who got rich preaching a simple anti-diet message to the overweight.
It's a scam, assumed Rachel Cooke - then she met Paul McKenna. Three weeks
later, her waistband felt looser ...
Peer pressure is a
terrible thing. It is nine o'clock on a Saturday morning and, rather than being
in bed, which is where I'd like to be, I'm standing in the lobby of an
anonymous hotel in West London. Why? Because my friend, N, has persuaded me -
who knows how - to attend a Paul McKenna Weight Loss Event. 'Come on!' she
said. 'It's right up your street. You can lose weight without doing anything at
all!' In fact, this is not entirely accurate, but her appeal was clever, and
Just like Paul McKenna, I hate diets, and I've never been on one. I
also love eating. For a female, I'm as unscrewed-up about food as it's possible
to be. There is nothing I avoid (apart from celery, which is vile), and no
'low-fat' product that I would be tempted to buy. However, if I am absolutely
honest, like every woman I've ever met, I sometimes do dumb things.
Occasionally, especially when I'm working, I eat nothing all-day and then, just
as I'm about to faint, I'll scoff eight biscuits. I eat when I'm bored, and
when I'm miserable. And guess what? I wouldn't mind losing a stone.
Show me a
woman who doesn't want to lose a stone, even if only in theory, and I'll show
you ... well, a bloke.
So, here we are. Me, N,
and about 500 people - women, mainly - who want to lose weight. It costs £250
to attend this event, plus travel, so it's a serious investment for most people
- and that's exactly how they see it, as an investment. This crowd is not; you
quickly realise, here to be entertained. For the majority, this is the last
resort. They have nothing to lose. They have tried everything, from calorie
counting to drinking cabbage soup, and they are still fat. Who can blame them
for thinking that Paul McKenna, hypnotist, self-proclaimed 'expert on the power
of the human mind' and author of the best-selling I Can Make You Thin, might be
worth a punt?
Not only does his book have the most alluringly explicit title
ever published in the field of self-help, but he claims that his 'system' also
has a success rate of 'over 70 per cent' (Kirsty Young, the newsreader, is one
of his successes. She even gave him a blurb for his book. 'I lost weight long-term
and re-established a relaxed relationship with food.')
This live version of the
book, then, has double its appeal: you get all the benefits of the 'system' -
immediate and life-long weight loss, plus increased self-esteem - but without
even having to read about how to achieve them. Plus, you get Paul to hold your
hand! To shout his encouragement! To tell you you're lovely! You can see why
this might appeal to the lonely dieter, worn out with circling the biscuit tin
in her kitchen.
And boy, is he encouraging.
We register, and go through into a big function room.
When McKenna first
appears on his specially assembled stage - in black suit and glasses, and
wearing a smile that says: 'I've brushed, I've flossed and I'm ready to save
your life' - the atmosphere in the room is lacklustre - depressed, even. People
are sitting around, feeling rubbish about their thighs, and waiting for the
miracle to happen. No matter. He has energy enough for everyone. It's Mr Bean
meets Batman up there! McKenna's 'system', as he would be the first to admit,
is very, very simple. It consists of four golden rules. Follow them, and you
will lose weight.
One: when you are hungry, eat.
Two: eat what you want, not
what you think you should.
Three: eat consciously, and enjoy every mouthful.
Four: when you think you are full, stop eating.
But, of course,
following these rules is easier said than done, and this is where McKenna's
beloved neuro-linguistic programming comes in. He has all sorts of weird ways
of getting you to change your behaviour, most of which have to do with what he
calls the 'reprogramming of the mind'. Here's an example. A volunteer comes up
on stage, a chocolate addict. McKenna produces a giant bar of Dairy Milk and
watches her salivate. Then, over a period of minutes, he builds up an
association in her mind between chocolate and a food she really hates - a food,
what's more, that has also been covered with hair from the floor of a barber's
shop. Ugh! The latter makes her gag and, once the association is fully
established, so does the chocolate. 'How about a piece now?' he says, snapping
off a corner. She pulls a face. The audience gasps.
Another much weirder
technique favoured by McKenna is called 'tapping'. In fact, he has a special
film to show us about it, in which a cola addict uses it to beat her cravings.
Tapping was developed by Dr Roger Callahan, author of Tapping the Healer
Within, and it involves tapping on certain acupuncture points in the body.
Think about whatever it is that you crave. Now use two fingers to tap above
your eyes 10 times, then below them, under the collarbone, in the armpit, and
on the back of your hand. Close your eyes, open them, look down to the right,
down to the left, then rotate them 360 degrees in either direction. Count out
loud from one to five, and hum the first few lines of 'Happy Birthday'. Now tap
under your eye again, and under your collarbone and armpit... OK, how is the
craving? According to McKenna, it will either be vastly reduced or gone
altogether (he does not have any advice as to what you should do if you happen
to be in a public place when this routine is called for). If not, go through
the sequence again. McKenna loves tapping. So do his trained volunteers, who
stand at the back waiting to help us out when we work in groups. For some of
them, it seems to be a kind of all-purpose cure. When I try to leave early
because I have a toothache, one of them catches me and, after I explain the
problem, suggests that I 'tap the toothache out'. Oh, come on. Just show me the
It's a long and
exhausting day. Repetition is always tiring and part of McKenna's technique,
honed during his heyday as a stage hypnotist, is to repeat his message over and
over in as many different forms as possible.
There is no real way of judging
the impact of his efforts on his audience; no follow-up work is done
afterwards, so who really knows if this event will change forever their
dysfunctional relationship with food? But I will say that, by the afternoon,
people look happier and more bright-eyed. Me? I'm impressed by his shtick, and
the inherent common sense of his message, but I'm still thinking - obsessing
would be a better word - about the piece of beef that I plan to roast when I
get home. I'm also worried about N. Just now, I looked at her out of the corner
of my eye, and her mouth was wide open in wonderment. During our lunch break
(food is not included in the cost of the event), she keeps telling me to put my
knife and fork down (McKenna wants us to eat slowly, the better to enable us to
hear the signal from our brain to our belly telling us that we are full), and
to chew everything 12 times. 'Prawns disappear after three chews,' I say. 'No
they don't!' she replies. 'Just do as you are told! Don't you want to lose
The following week,
having decided that I want to write about McKenna, I have a private
consultation with him at his Kensington mews house. It's very amusing. What a
smoothy! He greets me first in his office, which features a life-size Paul
McKenna cardboard cut-out, lots of Paul McKenna show posters, a box containing
a model of a UFO and a Great Dane with unfeasibly huge testicles. He then takes
me upstairs to his, er, private quarters, which are sort of 1980s minimalist:
there are Oriental touches, and lots of leather furniture. In his study, where
we sit for my consultation, there are button-back armchairs, stacks of
self-help books by other people and, on the back of a cupboard door, a
McKenna is incredibly
fidgety, jiggling his knee and rubbing his nose, and it's not very relaxing. He
asks me about my eating habits. I tell him that I was brought up to clean my
plate, and that it makes me anxious to leave it otherwise. We work on this
anxiety. He tells me to imagine myself in a liberating movie in which the sight
of an unfinished roast potato means absolutely nothing to me. We also practise
our tapping. Then he gets me to stand in front of the mirror. I'm not happy
about this. The lighting is highly unflattering.
'So, Rachel,' he purrs, in
his weird pop-picker twang (McKenna is a former DJ). 'What do you see? What do
you dislike about yourself?' I rattle through the usual: face, arms, legs, bum,
er, belly. I concede that my breasts aren't bad. McKenna takes a deep breath
and does a routine I saw him do at the event. He adopts a frankly ridiculous
voice, like a dwarf with adenoids trying for a role on 'Allo 'Allo. 'Ah hate ma
bum!' he says, mincing and gurning. 'Ah hate ma face! Ah hate ma arms! Ah hate
ma legs!' I don't know where to put myself. The idea is that I will see how
silly it is to be so self-critical, but he's the one who seems daft, not me.
It's embarrassing. Will I hear this voice every time I scrutinise my cellulite?
I hope not.
He then asks me to think of a compliment someone once paid to me,
to remember how it made me feel, and look at myself again. 'See! You're already
standing differently,' he says. This is true, but I'm not sure it has anything
to do with my brain. I just want to please Paul. Sure, he's cheesy, but he's also
so determined, so convinced by his self-appointed mission. I can't bear to let
him down. I'm very approval-seeking, that way.
He sends me off with a
full collection of his weight-loss CDs and a 'success journal', in which I can
record my habits. I'm disappointed that he didn't hypnotise me, and I'm not
convinced that our little chat is going to have any effect.
weird happens. I don't start thinking I am Christy Turlington but, over the
next few days, I notice that I eat more slowly, and feel full more quickly.
This involves no effort on my part; it just happens.
By the end of the
following week, my trousers fit better. I'm pleased by this, but also confused.
I think of myself as a rational person. I do not believe in 'mind
reprogramming', and even if I did, I don't think I'm the kind of person on whom
it would work; I'm cynical and stubborn and not easily led. What is going on?
Am I secretly following the rules, but refusing to admit that I am? No.
full feeling comes upon me from nowhere, and I'm certainly not doing any
tapping (though when Paul rings me to find out how I'm doing, I lie and say
that I am). This leaves me with only two alternatives: either he hypnotised me
on the sly, and I just didn't notice or, God forbid, he really has 'reprogrammed'
A month later, I visit
McKenna again. I'm still not eating as much as I usually do, though some of my
weight loss is undoubtedly down to the fact that I've been in Iran, and thus
very much off the booze.
We sit on his roof terrace, in the sunshine, observed
by the couple opposite on their roof terrace, who seem to regard our encounter
as a live show. I tell him I've lost weight, and he nods, Bean-ishly - well, of
course I have! So what did he do to me? 'It's more what you have done to
yourself with my assistance,' he says. 'You've broken the habits of the past.
The signal [from brain to belly] is coming on strong.' But if his techniques
are really so fast and effective, why don't more people use them? Why does
anyone bother with, say, cognitive behavioural therapy, which takes months to
deal with anxieties and phobias?
He sighs. McKenna is almost as down on the
world of therapy as he is on the world of dieting. 'It takes forever. Ye olde
traditional counsellors. These people are well-intentioned, but it seems to me
that getting people to go back to trauma isn't a comfortable experience.' So is
he a believer in repression? 'Absolutely not. That implies that you've put a
lid on something, and it's there, bubbling away. This is about recoding.'
What I want to know is:
why didn't he just hypnotise me (assuming, of course, that he didn't)?
reputed to have helped numerous celebrities - Robbie Williams, Sophie Dahl and
Geri Halliwell among them - with problems as diverse as writer's block to
giving up smoking using hypnosis. 'Well, my book is written in hypnotic
language. But modern hypnosis is different to the stuff you know from the
stage. It's more conversational. It's a feedback loop. I'm taking where you're
at emotionally to determine the pace and style of the change. Then I set up
patterns of agreement. Things you can say "yes" to right at the
beginning, hypnotic metaphors that you can relate to. But this is a system; the
system isn't just hypnosis. I've had good results for weight loss using
hypnosis, but I find that there are certain conscious behaviours people can
improve as well.
Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish,
and he eats for life. To some extent I want people to put on the CD [the
mind-programming CD that comes with his book] and just change. Woosh! But it's
also good if people get their sense of control back. I am on a quest to close
down the hate-your-body industry. That's why it's better to spend time with 500
people than doing one-on-ones. It's more profitable, and I don't just mean
If this all sounds a bit
vague, perhaps that's because it is.
McKenna is even more fidgety than last
time I saw him, and tired from a long day of meetings. He seems to have
forgotten the details of our last encounter. Never mind. There's something
unexpectedly likeable about him, in spite of his craaaa-zy verbal ticks and his
tendency to Americanise his voice when he's in explanatory mode. For one who
made his name in such a rum business - stage hypnosis has a questionable
reputation, which is one reason, I suspect, why he has left it behind him,
along with the waistcoats - he is intensely straightforward. Does he like being
famous? 'Yes, I really like it.'
Is he rich? 'Yes.' Would he like to be the
biggest self-help guru in the world? 'Yes.' It is almost impossible to
embarrass him. He takes pretty much everything as a compliment. Your patter is
so slick, I say. 'Thank you,' he replies. Where does this confidence come from?
Well, to give himself a boost, he does something called Big Mind, which was
developed by a Western Zen master, Dennis Merzel. 'It shortcuts straight into
the nirvana process. You forget about yourself and your consciousness expands
and becomes infinite.' The voice drops; suddenly, he is doing a movie trailer.
'It's a feeling of euphoria, bliss and immense inner peace. Problems dissolve.
I do it every day.'
McKenna is from Enfield,
in suburban north London. His father was a builder, his mother a cookery
teacher. Although he left school at 17, with few qualifications, he always knew
he was going to be famous. 'I knew it from the age of seven. I thought I'd be a
rock star, or something to do with communication. It's weird, isn't it?' He
worked first as a DJ in Topshop, and then at Radio Caroline, Chiltern, Capital
and, finally, Radio 1. But by this point, he was already a hypnotist by night
(he fell for its power after he interviewed a hypnotist while he was at Radio
Chiltern). He decided to give up DJing, and do the hypnotism full-time. 'I asked
myself where I would end up if I continued on the same course. I'd be older,
balder, more paranoid, radio would change.
Then I asked myself what I'd do if I
knew that I couldn't fail. I'd do hypnotism, have a show on TV and glamorous
celebrity clients and travel the world. So I went and fucking quit.' Was he a
good DJ? 'Yes. I would have got the breakfast show if I'd stayed.' Within a few
months, he'd piloted a TV show, The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna, which began
in 1993 and regularly attracted 12 million viewers.
But then it was all
change again. McKenna denies that, if he'd stayed in showbusiness, he would
have ended up 'like Paul Daniels' - but still, he decided to build up the more
serious side of his empire.
Within a couple of years, Paul McKenna Training was
the biggest hypnosis and neuro-linguistic training centre in the world
(neuro-linguistic programming was first developed by Richard Bandler and John
Grinder in the 1970s; in 1994, McKenna approached Bandler and asked if they
might go into business together, which they did; at the heart of Bandler's
philosophy is 'modelling' - if someone has a skill that you want to master, you
'model' it, so you can learn to do what they do, only in a fraction of the time
it took them). Now, having written a series of bestsellers based on these
techniques, McKenna is preparing for the next stage of his plan for global
domination. He is currently working on ideas with a hot-shot American TV
producer. 'I've got a massive vision.
Psychological make-over TV is the next
big area. That's where I'm headed. We'll show people changing on screen. But
things will also happen [to viewers] through the barrel on the lens, and with
web back-up.' Crikey. So he's literally going to invade people's homes?
McKenna is a content
serial monogamist, who favours leggy blondes (past girlfriends include the TV
presenter Penny Smith and the model Liz Fuller, who dumped him live on her
cable-TV show). His current partner is 'a dog person who's training to be an
animal behaviourist'. Do his girlfriends expect them to sort out their
problems? 'Ooh, yeah, but I pick some like that on purpose. It makes me feel
better about myself because I can go: I can help you with this.'
Has he ever
hypnotised a woman in order to make her go out with him? 'I wish.'
A friend of his does
something called speed seduction, which uses hypnotic language to hold their
attention. 'He asks them if they've ever been in love, and what they felt like,
and then attaches himself to that feeling. Women find it very offensive because
it's very chauvinistic.' Hmm. So when he tells the overweight women who come on
stage at his events that they are beautiful, does he believe it? What does he
really see? 'I just see layers of sadness, and I want to take it all away. I
see the essence of who they are, and the story that they tell themselves, not
like a psychic or anything, but because I've been doing this for a long time.'
At this point, he starts to quote Mother Teresa, but I am going to save him
from himself, and resist the temptation to repeat these thoughts in print.
It almost time for me to
go now; he's on QVC tonight, selling his weight-loss system, so he probably
needs a bit of a breather. But he tells me to keep listening to my CDs,
especially Overcome Emotional Eating and to keep tapping, and to just wait and
see: he is fully expecting that I will shed more pounds in the coming weeks. He
promises to call me, very soon.
In the end, Paul doesn't
call. Nor, three weeks after our meeting, have I lost any more weight. But I am
still more restrained in my habits, and I often hear his voice telling me to
slow down, to really enjoy what I'm eating. The other day, I threw a piece of
cold chicken away. I'm from Yorkshire! This is unprecedented!
I can't explain
how McKenna's system works, or even prove that it does (his statistics, so far
as I can tell, are unreliable in the sense that there is no control group as a
point of comparison and there are too many variables at play - in my case, hot
weather and a trip to Iran - ever to isolate his influence as being of prime
importance). But my hunch is that for some people it can and does work, that
his 'hypnotic techniques' somehow allow common sense to prevail.
One of the success
stories at the event I attended - a girl who came up on stage waving a pair of
trousers so giant she could now fit into them three times - described this as
'things suddenly clicking into place'. Perhaps some people, when it comes down
to it, just need a good talking to.
Do I worry that he charges people £250 to
hear him state the bleeding obvious? A little. But he's right about one thing.
Diets do suck. If he can dent that wretched industry, he'll have done us all a
The rules according to Paul McKenna
1. Eat when you are hungry
'Starving yourself can
actually make you fat. Not eating slows down your metabolism, which makes you
feel tired. It can also lead to false hunger signals and subsequently,
binge-eating. You need to train yourself to eat only when you're hungry.'
2. Eat what you want - not what you think
'As soon as you tell
yourself to avoid certain foods, you upset the balance of your relationship
with them. By eating what you want, you establish a balanced diet. Your tastes
change and you may find yourself craving the very foods you're
"supposed" to be eating. If you want it, eat it. Resistance is
3. Eat consciously - enjoy every mouthful
'People who are
overweight often eat too quickly in order to get a serotonin high. Eating
"subconsciously" can expand your stomach and cause weight gain.
Eat what you want,
whenever you want, so long as you enjoy every bite. Chew every mouthful,
slowing your eating speed down to a quarter of what it used to be, and you'll
automatically eat less and feel better.'
4. When you think you are full, stop
'When you've eaten
enough, your body should receive a signal in your solar plexus, which says it's
satisfied. The more you pay attention to this, the more satisfied you will feel
and you'll know when to stop eating. You need to re-sensitise yourself to your
'inner thermostat' so you stop eating food when you're full.'
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